Choose a Program
The first step in deciding whether or not to attend graduate school is to conduct an online search. The internet will give you plenty of information for many professions.
Research the careers you are interested in and what it entails to be in that profession day in and day out. Does the profession require a graduate degree? What is the ROI on your education investment and the future potential of the career? As you think about ROI, consider whether you will need to borrow and how much debt would be reasonable given your expected salary.
Once you decide on a profession, research which schools offer programs that will get you into your career path. Look for each program’s accreditation and reputation to see if it matches your career goals.
You will also want to research the program delivery at each school. How is the program offered? Where is the program offered? Is it full-time, or are there part-time options available? What is the duration of the program?
Along with delivery, research what faculty will be instructing throughout the program and if there is potential to tap into their knowledge and expertise by collaborating on potential projects/research opportunities.
You will want to research school facilities, location, and surrounding areas as well. Although the education is of utmost importance, these additional aspects can significantly contribute to your overall experience while in school.
Campus Visits & Grad Fairs
Although a thorough online search of information on possible school choices can provide quite a bit of results, there is no substitute for visiting the campus and surrounding area in person.
Inquire with the selected school(s) to see if they are hosting any open houses or grad fairs. This is an excellent way to see what the school(s) have to offer without having to get too personal.
If you want to take the experience one step further, schedule an appointment with an admissions/enrollment representative to get a one-on-one question and answer session. This will be the most comprehensive way of understanding the offering of the school and the program. In addition, while on campus, speak to existing students to gauge their experiences with the school. There is no better way to tap into the actual student experience.
Be sure to take some time to explore the surrounding area as well. Because you will be spending a few years at that location, your environment will help determine what kind of personal life you will experience. If the environment does not fit in with your needs, it may cause distractions and hindrances from completing your program effectively.
Graduate school is an investment in your future. Before you enroll in a program, it's best to have an idea of your career goals and an understanding of the path you need to take to get there.
If you’re still trying to make up your mind, look for job shadowing opportunities, also called externships, as a way to experience the field that interests you. These programs allow you to observe a typical workday and get to know what it's like to be a professional in a role that interests you.
Check with your college or university's career center to see if they offer opportunities for job shadowing. You can also ask friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and others about whether you can shadow in their workplace for a day.
This type of experience can guide you in the direction of the career path you’ve always wanted and help you feel confident about your next steps.
School & Life Balance
Although attending grad school will encompass a large portion of your life, it is not your whole life.
The program (and its environment) you choose needs to allow time and access to the people and things that are most important to you. If not, the potential stress on your personal life could interfere with your educational goals.
For instance, if you are an avid runner attending school out of state, it should be important that the school or location has areas for you to continue your exercise regimen.
For working students with families, the program course availability needs to fall in line with your current schedule, as others are depending on you to be in specific places at designated times. If the program demands too much time away from outside responsibilities, family and coworkers could be affected negatively.
Therefore, take a realistic approach to what is truly important to you and your overall well-being and ensure that the program you choose can fit into your lifestyle.